The best of college football will be on display Saturday night in Baltimore.
Well, if you believe the Heisman Trophy represents the top player in the college game, then consider that five of the winners will be there when the Titans visit the Ravens. It’s entirely possible that the team advancing to the AFC championship game will do so because its Heisman recipient does the best job.
That probably will be difficult for Robert Griffin III (2011) and Marcus Mariota (2014) – RG3 is Baltimore’s backup quarterback and Mariota holds the same job for Tennessee. But QB Lamar Jackson (2016) and RB Mark Ingram (2009) certainly figure to be factors for the Ravens. After all, they helped Baltimore to a 14-2 record, including wins in the last 12 outings.
And Titans RB Derrick Henry (2015) was an unstoppable force in last week’s road victory that knocked out the defending champion Patriots.
”Five?” Jackson said of the Super Bowl-era record for Heisman recipients in a game. ”I didn’t even think about that. It’s going to be incredible.”
It could be. Except, of course, both sides have formidable defenses, as the Titans (10-7) showed in holding New England to 13 points last week. As the Ravens displayed all season.
”I wouldn’t say we’re getting dressed and going out on the field and saying, ‘Oh man, there’s five Heisman Trophy winners out there.’ But it is a cool aspect of the game,” Griffin said. ”Maybe we’ll get a picture after the game, but I know that’s not what we’re thinking about right now.”
What Pro Picks is thinking about is a vastly improved performance after going 1-3 straight up in the wild-card round. Our feeling is that most, if not all, of the lines are a bit high. Including the Ravens being 10-point choices over the Titans.
We do like Baltimore, but believe Tennessee’s running game, defense and strong coaching will keep it tight.
Minnesota (plus 6 1-2) at San Francisco, Saturday
The Vikings (11-6) outplayed the Saints in New Orleans last weekend, a big surprise, yet needed overtime to move on. Their versatile pass rush was a huge reason they won, and the Vikings will need more of the same against top-seeded San Francisco (13-3).
But Minnesota erased many of the doubts about its fortitude with that gutsy victory in the Big Easy.
The 49ers look to be getting back starters Kwon Alexander, Dee Ford and Jaquiski Tartt on defense. Those are key additions.
”It’s kind of a confidence boost,” linebacker Fred Warner said. ”It’s been a while since we had all those guys back on the field together. The more weapons we have, the more powerful we’ll be.”
Houston (plus 9 1-2) at Kansas City, Sunday
Like Minnesota, Houston (11-6) showed its moxie in an overtime win last Saturday. The Texans rallied from a 16-0 deficit against visiting Buffalo.
They have the playmakers to push the Chiefs (12-4), whose defense really has come around in the past two months, and they won at Kansas City this season.
”These guys understand the opportunity in front of them and they understand what it’s going to take in Arrowhead Stadium against a great football team,” coach Bill O’Brien said. ”They’re very appreciative of the opportunity and they’re going to do everything they can to try to take advantage of it.”
We think the Texans will do so, at least against the hefty spread.
Seattle (plus 4) at Green Bay
The Seahawks (12-5) will have their resilience severely tested at Lambeau Field against the rested Packers (13-3). Then again, Seattle seems to play nothing but close games.
It also seems to manage to find the right bodies to fill holes caused by injuries, and it gets optimum contributions from Russell Wilson in clutch situations.
That said, the Packers are as improved as anybody in Matt LaFleur’s first season as coach, especially on defense.
”It’s been an exciting year,” Aaron Rodgers says. ”It’s funny, life in general, how much can change in a year. You think about the feeling of the organization and disappointment and everybody really being gone. Now, we’re here. There’s eight teams left in the playoffs. I think there’s a different sentiment about the squad and which way our arrow is pointing and the excitement that the playoffs brings to the organization, the area and the region.”
The arrow is pointing up in a close one.
BEST BET: PACKERS, 20-17
Last Week: 1-2-1 against spread, 1-3 straight up.
Season Totals: 135-119-5 against spread, 153-104-1 straight up.
Best Bet: 12-6 against spread, 14-4 straight up.
Upset special: 8-10 against spread, 8-10 straight up.
More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP-NFL